Spring’s a Coming

Wind chills of 30 below zero, snow drifts higher than the top of the car in the winter, followed by springs so short they barely exist and then summer with it’s heat, humidity and blood sucking mosquitos – yep, you need to be especially brave and hardy to live in Minnesota all your life. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. The reality is much less flattering, but there’s no need to go there just yet. Instead, today I’m feeling a little like a certain well-known storyteller that you may have listened to on public radio, who tells tales of his fictional hometown.

We’re starting to awaken from what feels like a strange winter in my hometown of Minneapolis. This year we’ve seen elements of the worst of what winter has to offer us, none of which lasted for more than a day or two, and all of which were spread out just enough to ensure very limited time outside because it was either too cold, too windy, too wet, too icy, too something to enjoy being outside in winter. Please don’t misunderstand, I much prefer sun, sand and 80 degrees, but realistically if we live here, we do have to peacefully co-exist with winter and spend some time outdoors in it, so we learn how to dress for the weather. Boots to -20 or so, heavily insulated parkas, down mittens, fleece hats and scarves, and we follow it up with a hot beverage or two. (Some of us might even have a hot adult beverage or two, but that’s a story for a different day.) That all assumes, however, that whatever layer you’ve donned is enough to protect you from the onslaught of the elements of the moment. Reallistically, there is nothing that protects you well when wind chills are in the dangerous range and then just when that stops, it starts to rain. As the day ends the temperature drops and the rain turns to ice and now everything has a lovely coating of thin ice for a few days. After that melts, the temperature drops again to well below zero. And around and around we went. All flippin winter.

But the other day it was different as Mother Nature messed with us in her own slightly twisted way. Winds shifted from North to South and became almost gently and balmy. The sun made an appearance and was high enough in the sky that it could produce warmth when it touched your skin, which we Minnesotans were brave enough to show since the ambient air temperature was in the 50s. The 50s!  Folks in California pull out parkas and Ugg boots at 61 degrees, or so I’m told, but here we put on T-shirts and shorts and even a few sandals, although since many of us don’t do maintenance pedicures over the winter, our toes don’t have cute polish on and heaven forbid we show our bare toes without adornment. But I digress.

My mornings are special for me, my husband is still asleep, my furry four-legged children haven’t started chattering for the day and the world hasn’t woken up and begun to annoy me. I drink coffee, read the news and try to not get depressed at the general state of things out there. But this one day, as I sat here I suddenly became aware of something different around me. A sound I hadn’t heard for so long that I nearly didn’t recorgnize it, and I had to consciously pause for a moment and think about it. It was the birds chirping outside! For the first time in months, the birds were back and doing their spring thing. Suddenly, all the crap in politics, health care reform, wiretapping, none of it mattered. Spring was on it’s way to Minnesota.

When that happens, there is a noticeable difference in attitudes among residents here. A new spring in our steps is felt, smiles appear on our faces, we start looking strangers in the eyes again and saying hello after a long winter of being bundled up and looking down at the ground. That’s not rudeness by the way, it’s just our way of reducing the number of passages for cold air to enter under our coats – chin down to block the neck opening in case you either didn’t wear a scarf, or in case your scarf doesn’t quite cut the mustard. But hearing the birds as they are singing their little hearts out? Ah, who cares about a little cool air, we can deal with that, spring is on the way! IMG_1404 - Version 3There are chickadees, goldfinches,  and robins, oh my! (OK, we have the chickadees and goldfinches all year long, but they don’t sing a whole lot in winter, and the goldfinches turn a kind of weird shade of chartreuse. When they start looking bright yellow again, that’s another harbinger of spring.)

Of course, just as we allowed our collective emotions to get excited and think winter might be over with, just that fast she turned on us and walloped us with a reminder that it ain’t over til it’s over and “here’s 4 more inches of snow and minus 3 degrees (Farenheit, for those of you in Celcius world) for a temperature” as a reminder to not got too big for our collective britches. Oh well, I hadn’t worn my new boots yet anyway.

Anesthesia Brain

“Scientists have found that the drugs used most often in the administration of general anesthesia, produce memory alteration and loss side effects that can last anywhere from one to twelve months following surgery. These effects closely resemble that of…..squirrel!!!!!”

Sounded like a plausible headline at first, didn’t it? And much of it actually is an amalgam from several stories that I did read this morning on the web (because you know if you found it on the internet, it’s true). Well it was mostly true, right up to the part about the squirrel…although that part is true enough for me. I am finding that I’ll be thinking  about somthing I need to get at the store (and in fact as I write this, I just remembered something I didn’t get when I was there a short time ago, in spite of the fact it was on my list, dammit), then suddenly before I can write that thing down, I will be onto something else totally unrelated and I have zero memory of what I was just thinking about. None. Zippity-do-dah it’s gone. Before you know it the front door is left unlocked overnight, the shower is still running, the oven is on but there is nothing in it…and I’m taking a nap, because why not? It’s a short nap, because my brain freaks out after about 7.2 minutes and says “hey, remember the THING you were going to put on your list for the store and you forgot” and by the time I wake up enough to write it on the list, I’ve forgotten it again, but at least I turned off the stove. Just not before I stopped to pet the cat, water the plants, get the mail and take out the trash.

And words are gone too…I HATE that. It’s like living in a game of perpetual Charades. “Sounds like…, two words” argh. It’s not like they are complex or unusual things either. Every day items just don’t have a name for a moment. “Honey, have you seen my…” as my voice trails off. Poor husband. He just has to wait it out patiently as I pound my head on whatever flat surface is nearest to me, in frustration. “oh crap, you know, that….thing….it’s almost there…ah, shit, it’s gone. It’ll come to me someday”.  And it does, at 2 am, when I want to desperately be sleeping rather than having this random verbal vomit of words in my head. It slowly is resolving, and I can now go a couple of days without an issue, then suddenly it will creep up on me and WHOOMP. Here we go again.

It can be embarassing too, depending on when it happens. I was talking to a colleague at work the other day, and needed to ask her a question when the topic of the question was just gone. POOF!!  Into thin air. For about 10 min we had to just chat about stuff. Eventually it came back to me, but honestly, the idea was just airborne on the wind until then. Even writing this, I start out thinking “hey, I’ll add….squirrel!!” and off I go again. I’d try writing things down, but that damn squirrel would bury the paper someplace, like an acorn, and then next spring when I’m cleaning I’ll dig up the list and wonder why the hell I wrote down these weird, seemingly random statements.

In the meantime, if you’re talking to me and I just go off on a tangent, bear with me. I’m sure it will improve in time, and remember my husband really needs your understanding and….squirrel!!!



Squirrel or Bear?

If you’ve never been camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (also known as the BWCA), it’s truly a wonderful experience (assuming, of course, that you like to go camping. If your idea of roughing it is slow room service, you’re probably already thinking that we have differing ideas of what wonderful means.) Being someplace where the water is so pristine you can still safely drink it (from 30 feet offshore, let’s be sensible, people!), where bald eagles are in abundance, moose are rare but might show up, and any number of other critters abound to greet you does have it’s charms.

The BWCA is located in northeastern Minnesota, and is most of the “pointed arrow” part of the state. It’s over a million acres of pure wilderness, where no motors of any kind are allowed – boats, cars or float planes. It borders Canada’s Quetico and La Verendrye Provincial Parks, which are also wilderness areas of over 1 million acres combined. When you go camping there, you go in by canoe, bringing what you need in the canoe, carrying it on your back, and you learn that traveling light is absolutely critical. You really CAN get by with only one extra set of footwear, a couple of t-shirts, a few shorts and guess what? Underwear can be turned inside out before being washed. No kidding! You laugh now, but after a long day of paddling, broken up only by the multiple treks over the rocky portages where you made multiple trips carrying 65 lb packs on your back, believe me when I tell you that every ounce counts.Rocky Portage.jpg

I know it seemed like a great idea at the time bring in the box of wine, but by the end of the third set of half mile portages, where you have to climb over huge boulders with the packs, and make three trips each way to get all your crap, suddenly you’ll be asking yourself “what can I leave behind” and realize the answer is “nothing!” Because you’re now out in the middle of nowhere, and no one leaves anything behind. Except maybe small children that have had too much sugar, but I think the park rangers pick them up daily and drop them back at a special ranger station or something.

So back to camping. After you get into the BWCA and find your campsite, there are a couple of really important things to do. First, find the tent pad, but don’t kid yourself, it’s not padded, it’s hard, it’s the ground for heaven’s sake. You want to pitch your tent on a spot that is a) relatively small rock free, b) slightly slopey but not too much, so if it rains, you’ll get water run off and c) not near a widow maker.  What’s that you say?  Well, that would be a tall, old dead tree, that has the potential to come down on top of you in a wind storm. Bad, bad idea.  After you find that, find the path to the toilet seat before you need it. They don’t have outhouses there, the whole forest is your outhouse…but they do have fiberglass toilets on top of pits that were dug, so at least there is something to sit on. It’s a little strange to be outdoors like that but it’s always situated back from the campsite for privacy and eh, you get used to it. Finally, and do this before you actually spend the time pitching your tent….for the love of God, find the tree you’re hanging the food pack in. Yes, you heard me right. You need to hang the food to keep it away from the bears. I think when I first talked about that one with my husband before my first trip (and about his 24th), it was fine in concept but it wasn’t until we were actually in camp that it got real, and I started to think about what could happen. Holy crap, we could have a BEAR IN CAMP!

So we get everything set up, food pack is up, tent is pitched, toilet runs are done, dinner has been rehydrated and eaten and dishes washed, dried and put away. We’re in the tent for the night. It’s quiet. Really quiet. Unearthly quiet. Except for the bugs, the crickets, the mice, the owls, the bats, the coyotes, and “OMG what the HELL WAS THAT?” and by now husband is patting my hand and saying “it’s ok, honey, it’s nothing. Go to sleep”.  Sleep? How am I supposed to sleep? It’s too freaking loud for me to sleep!  There is noise everywhere? The wind is blowing, the trees are creaking, I swear something is going to fall over and kill us. The ground is like a rock.  I can’t get comfortable, I want my pillow, I want my bed. My brain is racing with everything I have back home with my creature comforts that are missing here. It took what seemed like forever before I could start to relax even the tiniest bit. Then it happened. Husband is sleeping, I can tell by his breathing (wives just know these things.) Against the side of the tent is a rustling sound like a brush rubbing up against it. I grabbed his arm “honey, what’s that!!” waking him up with a loud, urgent  whisper. Because of course I’m positive it was a bear, and we’re gonna die, and waking him out of a sound sleep is the thing that will keep us alive. Too bad I couldn’t see the flaw in that logic then, but being exhausted and sleep deprived will do that to you. In return he gives me the husband sounds of “ungh, snort, what?” because of course, he was sleeping. “Something brushed up against the tent!” He then did what all good, experienced BWCA camper husbands do. Pats my hand and says , “It’s nothing. Go back to sleep”, because he assumed I’d already been asleep.  Argh, seriously? A bear probably brushed up against the tent and all you can say is go back to sleep? I know I hardly slept a wink that night, terrified out of my mind. I mean, if it’s a bear, don’t I want to know if it’s coming in the tent and I’m gonna die?

Well somewhere between terror and dawn I did fall asleep, and woke to daylight. We got up and he said “you realize what you were probably hearing was a squirrel’s tail brushing up against the tent?”

Nuh-uh. That was NOT a squirrel. It was HUGE, killer bear size. In my sleep deprived mind it was so loud, I know it must have looked a little like this:

Adult SqBear

The dreaded squirrel bear. I swear that’s what it had become without sleep and the fuel of sugar and caffeine. And I just knew the next night, I was going to be it’s next meal. Thank goodness I was so tired by nightfall, I didn’t give two hoots, and was almost in a coma before I hit my pillow made from a pillowcase stuffed with a t-shirt and rolled up pants.

Go ahead and laugh, we both do now, and in fact we’ve been there three more times and have had fun with this story every time. But each time we’ve gone back, I’m pretty sure the squirrel bear has been out there watching on my first night back in camp as I try to relax and get used to the sounds, just waiting for his opportunity to brush against the side of our tent.